Fireside gets you in the holiday spirit early
Christmas show filled with strong vocalists

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 14, 2013


FORT ATKINSON - Following a long tradition of almost 20 years, The Fireside Theatre opened its popular Christmas show “A Fireside Christmas” on Oct. 31. Last year’s offering of “Scrooge the Musical” did not follow the usual pattern, but this year it has returned with its tried and true offering of songs, dances and folk tales, all gorgeously costumed, choreographed and executed.

It seems that audiences never tire of traditional Christmas fare, but they also like some tunes or stories they’ve never heard before. The Fireside is good at providing the mix of old and new, sacred and secular, serious and humorous. With the cadre of talent they have garnered, each number is sure to please.

The opening number, “Carol of the Bells,” immediately makes one aware of the lovely voices that will dazzle us throughout the show. Though we’ve all heard this carol many times, the vigorous arrangement is definitely different. Many a tune takes on a new flavor, which surprises and delights us.

The traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas” is the cleverest of the offerings as performers Bianca Denis and Kate Cherichello respond to their beaux as they receive each subsequent gift. Once one gets past the birds of many ilks and the five golden rings, the number of maids a milking, lords a leaping, pipers piping and drummers drumming gets out of hand, and the grand suitors lose their ladies.  This literal exposure is quite amusing.

Seven children also perform in the show - Megire and KyLee Hennes, Natalie Hershman, Allison Beneker, Dylan Garza, Kahler Thiele and Shania Woods - some on alternate days. Children always add their special touch to a show, especially one about Christmas, since this feast day figures so strongly into their dreams. They were prominent in “A Crackerjack Christmas Medley,” the tale of “The Magical Icicle Tree” and “The Best Christmas Pageant.”

Michael Hawes aces his usual narrator position, transitioning between numbers and giving a moving rendition of “‘Twas the Night before Christmas.” He even involves several audience members in a short game of Christmas trivia. Hawes is very natural and likeable, and the perfect host.

Though all the female soloists - Laura Black, Kate Cherichello, Taylor Coriell and Bianca Denis - are more than competent, I was especially moved by several of the male voices this time. When the four of them - Derek Bastherner, Carl Hudden, Courtney Love and Mathew Schwartz - performed “The First Noel” as a quartet, I was blown away. Derek Bastherner, a newcomer to Fireside, and Carl Hudden have especially affecting voices.

An array of eight dancers offers color and movement to many of the tunes, but the solo dance of the angel in the Christmas pageant is especially gracefully rendered by Danielle Fuhrmann. The other dancers include Courtney Cerny, Meredith Miller Higgins, Catherine Wolfson, Robb Gibbs, Terrance Martin, Mario Martinez and Doug Reed, who has performed 101 shows with the Fireside over the last 25 years. He’s almost as much of a fixture there as director Ed Flesch.

The show’s closing number, “O Holy Night,” features soloist Taylor Coriell, a stunning soprano, who is joined by the entire entourage for a roof-raising rendition of this dramatic hymn. A standing ovation follows.

Behind the scenes making it all happen are Mary Ehlinger (musical director), Kate Swan (choreographer) Robin Buerger (costume designer), Rick A. Rasmussen (scenic designer), Jason Fassl (lighting designer) and the omnipresent artistic director Flesch, who has been responsible for the high- quality shows at Fireside for more than 35 years.

If you want to get in the Christmas mood before the rush is upon us, take a drive to Fort Atkinson to relish a lovely meal, a scintillating show and an array of shops to peruse. You’ll be glad you did.

“A Fireside Christmas” runs through Dec. 22 at the Fireside Dinner Theatre, 1131 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson. Call 800-477-9505 for tickets or visit Gift cards are also available for any of the upcoming shows in the 2013-2014 season.